Before I even started watching this game I had one thing written down: I love Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. These guys didn't disappoint. What a game both had. They cover so much space and are involved in almost every big play made by this defense. I don't know if there is a linebacker duo quite like these two in the league!
ARI punt vs. CAR punt return: Both teams stunk in this area. I couldn't stand watching the Panthers return man Brenton Bersin. He caught, or attempted to catch, three punts from his knees. I coached a kid like this once and every time the ball was in the air, you're heart was in your throat. And the Arizona punter was terrible, he had no distance on any of punts. It put the Arizona defense in bad spots throughout the night.
Arizona was awful offensively but somehow managed a first half lead. They cashed in on two turnovers and scored touchdowns. If they managed to cash in on two second half red zone possessions off turnover they win this game. That is eye-opening if you are a Panther fan.
Cam Newton: I have written in the past, the mobile is an asset in the hurry-up/two-minute offense and on third down. Newton made plays with his legs on third down to extend drives. His throwing was pretty bad (18/32 for 198, 2 touchdowns both to RBs and an INT). He made an awful play in the second half that was ruled an incomplete pass after Bruce Arians challenged the play. He will have to be much better throwing the ball and making decisions next week for a chance to win.
Carolina DC Sean McDermott: Growing up in the Lehigh Valley, I have spent many summers watching the Eagles at Lehigh University. There was a young assistant who climbed the ranks working under coach Andy Reid and that was Sean McDermott. From a quality control assistant to a defense coordinator, I am happy to see that defense playing well!
BALTIMORE vs PITTSBURGH
Cris Collinsworth said it best, "defense travels" (Ravens giveup 18 ppg, 8th best in the league). Ravens coach John Harbaugh came into this game with 6 road playoff wins, largely in part because of the teams defense over the years. He has complete confidence in his team and that was evident by his decision to go for it on 4th and inches with 12 minutes to go with an 11 point lead around midfield. They converted but unfortunately Justin Forsett fumbled the ball away and the Steelers immediately scored.
The Steelers really missed Le'Veon Bell. The offense was out of sync all night. I really thought Ben and company would be able to overcome this but that was not the case.
Antonio Brown is an animal! I remember thinking the Steelers made a mistake letting Emmanuel Sanders go last season but I was wrong. Brown emerged as one of the best in the business this season and put up monster numbers. Combine him with the emerging Martavis Bryant and they have a solid receiving duo.
Justin Forsett: How does a player, cut multiple times throughout his career and almost out of football entirely, run for 1200 yards and lead all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry? After the Ray Rice issues and the lack of production from Bernard Pierce, Forsett is largely responsible for their run to make the playoffs.
Joe Flacco: I don't know what to make of this guy. I wouldn't want him as my quarterback but he gets the job done. His touchdown pass to Torrey Smith was impressive and proved to be the difference in this game. He cut his interceptions down this season and if he continues to protect the football, combined with their defense, could give any time some difficulty in the playoffs.
The Front Office: These two franchises have incredible front offices. To be in the playoff mix each season is a testament to that. They draft well and seem to bring in the right pieces each season.